Everybody hates the Cajuns. At least, it seemed that way when, earlier this season, the FunBelt Podcast queried a number of Sun Belt voices for their most hated rivals. There’s something about Louisiana – part of it is that it’s that they have the audacity to call themselves Louisiana. A-State old timers will call the Cajuns “Uh-La-La” with a degree of bitterness usually reserved for unsweetened ice tea.
But mostly, the Cajuns are hated because Louisiana has simply been very, very good for a very long time. Success breeds resentment. Success also breeds more success. Louisiana is the only Sun Belt school paying its head football coach (LSU’s next head football coach, Billy Napier) north of $1M. In fact, they’re so brazen with their loose cash, the Cajuns are paying Napier TWO million. The cheek on these guys!
Meanwhile, the Red Wolves enter their second consecutive Thursday night home game with a 1-5 record, a hospital ward full of deep-impact injuries, and an uncanny talent for carving offensive players of the week from their opponents.
Thursday night’s ESPN telecast doesn’t seem to be shaping up as one of those classic Red Wolves versus Cajuns donnybrooks – not on paper, or anywhere else. Louisiana is rolling towards a Sun Belt title while the Red Wolves are sliding into an abyss. But then again, it’s not wise to discount the universe’s most powerful and toxic element – Element H(ate). Arkansas State hates the Cajuns and we’ve hated them for the 55 years we met on the gridiron. They come into Centennial Bank Stadium with a three game win streak in the series. It’ll likely end up four. But the Red Wolves will make sure that the Cajuns leave knowing that they are hated.
The Red Wolves are All Kinds of Beat Up
Not even accounting for the emotional pain of being mostly winless on the season is the fact that the Red Wolves have physically lost significant personnel in recent weeks. Starting QB James Blackman is OUT. So is offensive lineman Robert Holmes. Defensive lineman Terry Hampton is also OUT.
You know who’s not out, according to the 2-deep? Cornerback Samy Johnson, who last time we saw was being driven out of Centennial Bank Stadium in an ambulance. However, he was discharged from the hospital after passing all his medical tests.
The loss of Hampton and the possible limitations of Johnson further withers a defense in desperate need of leadership and production. The BYE week came at an opportune time for the Red Wolves, enabling Butch Jones and his staff to cobble replacements.
The Board of Dark Emotions Has Dark Takes to Share
Welcome to Layne Hatcher’s Third Rodeo
Battling the now #14 ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers resulted in the three major injuries, including a busted shoulder for quarterback James Blackman. Layne Hatcher drops the clipboard and inserts himself behind center, which may be preordained. Hatcher, while not perfect, seems to provide a spark to the offense with his quicker release and deeper experience with the personnel. The change at QB may have been coming even had Blackman remained healthy.
In a limited role this season, Hatcher has 9 TD passes against three picks. It will be interesting to see how the third-year signal caller reacts to the Cajun’s pressure, which made Appalachian State looks so average last week. Hatcher’s quick decision making will likely prove more an asset on Thursday, as Blackman tends to wait for big plays to develop.
The Offensive Line is Getting a Shake Up
Wyatt Begeal is your official backup QB agains Louisiana, but the biggest shake-up appears on the offensive line, with Ethan Minor moving to left guard, Ivory Scott shifting to right guard, and Christian Hoz taking over as Scott’s backup.
Taking over over injured Terry Hampton isn’t his back up Quay Mays, but 6’1″ 287 pound senior Sosaia Tuitavake.
|QB||Layne Hatcher||Wyatt Begeal||James Blackman|
|RB||Alan Lamar||Lincoln Pare|
|TE||Reed Tyler||Emmanuel Stevenson|
|WR||Jeff Foreman||Adam Jones|
|WR||Corey Rucker||Reagan Ealy|
|WR||Te’Vailance Hunt||Dahu Green|
|LT||Andre Harris||Noah Smith|
|LG||Ethan Miner||Ernesto Ramirez||Ivory Scott, Makilan Thomas|
|C||Jacob Still||Makilan Thomas|
|RG||Ivory Scott||Christian Hoz||Ernesto Ramirez, Justin Dutton|
|RT||Wyatt Luebke||Avery Demmons|
|DE||Joe Ozougwu||Thurman Geathers|
|DE||Kivon Bennet||TW Ayers|
|DT||Sosaia Tuitavake||Quay Mays||Terry Hampton|
|DT||Vidal Scott||John Mincey|
|LB||Anthony Switzer||Cam Jeffery|
|LB||Caleb Bonner||Derrick Bean|
|LB||Jeffmario Brown||Jaden Harris|
|S||Elery Aldexander||Antonio Fletcher|
|S||Taylon Doss||Trevian Thomas|
|CB||Jarius Reimonenq||Denzel Blackwell|
|CB||Leon Jones||Samy Johnson|
|K||Blake Grupe||Aidan Ellison|
|KR||Marcel Murray||Lincoln Pare|
|PR||Johnnie Lang||Lincoln Pare|
The Cajuns Can Run, But They Can Also Throw
A team with Montrell Johnson, Chris Smith and Enami Bailey toting the leather pill will always ben a run-first threat, but Levi Lewis (also not bad with the wheels) has honed his throw-game as well. The well-balanced Cajuns rank a solid 6th in the Sun Belt in passing; 4th in rushing. Lewis has thrown for more than 1,300 yards this season and has only coughed up two interceptions, giving that run game plenty of room to develop.
But It’s Not Really Offense (or Defense) That Defines Louisiana
Statistically, the Cajuns aren’t the dominating defense in the Sun Belt. Programs like Troy, South Alabama and Coastal rank higher. Yet, the Cajuns always seems to provide just enough defense necessary to secure the victory. After six games, Louisiana has given up 21 points per contest while scoring 30. Those numbers are actually skewed after last week’s 41-13 beatdown of Appalachian State.
The fact is, there’s not a major statistic for which Louisiana leads the Sun Belt. Billy Napier and his staff simply manage a game that exploits the opposition’s weakness. Honestly, it’s kinda tough to identify how the Cajuns win. I guess it’s all moxie.
Can the Red Wolves Beat the Cajuns?
Last Saturday, I witnessed ULM play a disciplined, well managed game to beat Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames. The Red Wolves can do the same against the Cajuns. Arkansas State is among the fewest penalized teams in the country, which reduces wasted opportunities.
It’ll take more than discipline to beat Louisiana. The Red Wolves must limit the dropped passes that have plagued them in recent games, plus find a way to prevent the big plays that suck the soul out of the stadium. It would also help to establish even a smidge of a run game. Essentially, everything the Red Wolves are not doing is what the Red Wolves must do to win.
Cajun to Watch: Emani Bailey, RB
Johnson, Smith and Bailey rank 10th, 11th, and 12th in rushing yards and have totaled 13 touchdowns. While Johnson may be the leading the team with the yards, freshman Emani Bailey is the guy most likely to break off an 80 yard TD on the Red Wolves. Averaging 6.9 yards per carry, Bailey has put up just as much production as his battery mates with more than 20 fewer touches.
Prediction or Wedgie, You Choose
There’s a tremendous chance that Louisiana puts up their highest score of the season against Arkansas State with several Cajuns enjoying a night worthy of Sun Belt offensive player of the week honors. Furthermore, we’re probably going to see a couple 50+ yard runs from Cajun running backs and a career night from Levi Lewis.
Meanwhile, it will be up to us Arkansas State fans to marshal our hate for who deserves it – the Cajuns. Let’s settle into this rebuild, and pull for the defense to deliver a three-and-out.
Photo Credit: Mine